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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 February, 2004, 21:58 GMT
Thousands join Albania protests
Protesters face off with police on 7 February
Protesters tried to storm the government HQ two weeks ago
Up to 20,000 people have taken to the streets of the Albanian capital Tirana to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Fatos Nano.

Opposition leaders accuse Mr Nano of corruption, manipulating election results and failing to tackle the country's acute economic problems.

There was a tense atmosphere, with hundreds of police officers lining the streets outside government buildings.

But the rally - said to be the largest protest for seven years - was peaceful.

A similar march two weeks ago was broken up by police.

A coalition of 10 opposition parties is pressing for Mr Nano to step down and call early elections.

They accuse him of failing to improve living standards in Albania - one of Europe's poorest countries.

'Stifling hope'

A huge crowd gathered in the central square, chanting: "Nano, go!"

There is particular anger at the sharp increases in phone and electricity charges, as well as the high level of unemployment.

"[Fatos Nano] is the enemy of the Albanians, and it is he who is stifling the hope of the Albanians," said Sali Berisha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party and former president.

The prime minister however has refused to step down.

He denies the allegations made against him by the opposition, and he says the aim of the demonstrations is purely to enable Mr Berisha to return to power.

Mr Berisha told the BBC the demonstrations would continue, and become more frequent until they achieve their goal and that he wanted fresh elections before the end of the year.

But he urged those attending the march to demonstrate peacefully, a sentiment underlined by other opposition leaders, who released doves into the air.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Galpin
"This time the organisers made sure there was no repetition of the violence"



SEE ALSO:
Poor turnout at Albania polls
12 Oct 03  |  Europe
Albania faces no-confidence vote
16 Jan 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Albania
30 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Albania
08 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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